The first thing that struck me was the new face in the room -- new and now familiar at the same time -- Justice Samuel Alito's smug, curveball smile radiating from the front row -- at once the picture of the great liberal failure and the culmination of the great conservative dream. What I was thinking on this night of Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement is there was no outrage, as there was on the eve of the election when losing the court was impossible to conceive; and now here, the impossible staring you in the face, and you just stare back -- exhaustion has set in.
George Bush strode down the center aisle, his poll numbers lower than any president since Nixon -- yet puffed out like a peacock, and took the podium to preside over the state of this divided Union.
And that's the second thing that struck me. Half the bicameral house bursting into wild cheers as the other sat glumly on their hands. Like a mirror of the bicameral house, half of the country probably bought it, half didn't; we're just where we were election night. One side heard Bush reassuring us about the dire threat of our enemies and the fight for Liberty and Democracy and Freedom around the world and the other heard pap. There are two sets of ears in America.
And another thing I thought: Why, in a room packed with servicemen in uniform, designed so cynically, should it make me feel cynical to point it out? The compulsory State of the Union Lenny Slotkin role -- the common man or family called by name by the president from the audience in his speech, a tradition since Reagan I learned today, was a recently killed serviceman's beautiful family, standing with honor, who'd written a speech about honor that the President read to us winking (or holding back tears, depending on your interpretation) at them as they were photographed in tight close up standing up honorably for America, and it was all so... unbearably honorable that I had to skip dessert.
Then you couldn't help but notice that it was really the State of Iraq. Thirty solid minutes of it. And this I can assure the other set of ears that it was pap. It bore no relation to what we like to call "reality" or "facts on the ground." He got big cheers, it seemed from both sides of the aisle -- at least a smattering -- when he said that the timetable for reducing troops would be set by the commanders on the ground; but almost none of the rest of it was really intelligible form the point of view of the worsening insurgency or political situation if the Sunnis are not integrated fully into the future of Iraq. Nor has he has begun to cope with the unintended political ramifications of the Iranian alliance with this hard-line Iraqi Shiite government, one which is devoted to the eradication of Israel and clearly can develop WMD. We hear of none of these nuances. Instead, we hear tonight, we are being protected from "a failed and oppressive" state that resulted in 9/11. Which?? I needed to know! Iraq? I turned to a friend. "Afghanistan." He wisely answered. Then I gave the old 'but most of them came from Saudi Arabia' argument. Debate ensued on which failed state which caused 9/11.
Now to this wacky argument he keeps trucking out that they could have caught Bin Laden with these NSA wiretaps. Woulda shouda coulda. What I want to say is that he, Dick and Condi couldn't see this plot coming with George Tenet hysterically telling them every day that Bin Laden wanted to attack us with planes and people within the FBI tracing exactly who was learning to fly planes for those exact purposes, they STILL didn't stop them. After 9/11, a zealous border guard almost randomly stopped the millennium plot. Please. They haven't even translated countless of backlogged FBI transcripts yet. So how will monitoring millions of unfiltered telephone conversations solve all of our intelligence problems when we haven't the translators to understand them? And I want to know one thing about the NSA story: What don't we know about it? Who are they tapping that isn't Al Queda? And another? What if you have phone sex with a person in a middle eastern country. A person just visiting that country, for example. Is your phone tapped? A girlfriend wants to know.